Master of Arts
This experimental study assessed the acute effects of appearance- versus function-based verbal cues during exercise on indices of self-objectification and exercise engagement among young women non-exercisers. Participants were randomized into one of three exercise conditions (appearance, neutral, function), where an instructor delivered verbal cues during a 20-minute treadmill exercise task. Participants completed a baseline assessment of trait self-objectification, and a post-manipulation survey examining psychological states (self-objectification, body shame, social physique anxiety, flow, and interoceptive awareness) and exercise engagement (intent to exercise, exercise enjoyment, exercise motivation). The total sample included 102 women (Mage = 20.2 years, SDage = 2.1 years). Only exercise enjoyment in the neutral condition was significantly higher compared to the function condition [F (2, 95) = 5.155, p = .007]. Exposure to an objectifying exercise environment did not significantly impact the psychological experiences of non-exercising women. Exercise environments that are body-neutral may lead to greater exercise enjoyment.
Summary for Lay Audience
Young women commonly experience sexual objectification in daily life. Internalization of these experiences can lead to self-objectification, whereby an individual adopts a third person perspective of the self and places value on their bodily appearance. This has been associated with many negative mental health consequences such as eating disorder symptomology, depression, and sexual dysfunction. Self-objectification may also contribute to the lower rates of participation in exercise and higher rates of dysfunctional exercise that are observed in women. Oftentimes, women who cope with the pressure of objectification either avoid the exercise context or engage in exercise for appearance reasons. There are limited studies that have tested if an objectifying exercise environment leads to increased self-objectification and negatively impacts exercise experiences. This study aimed to further understand the relationship between self-objectification outcomes and exercise behaviours in young physically insufficiently active women. Young women were recruited from the university and invited to complete a short aerobic workout on a treadmill. Eligible participants (N = 102) were randomly assigned to one of three exercise cue conditions: an appearance-focused condition whereby verbal cues during exercise emphasized the body’s physical appearance, a function-focused condition with verbal cues that emphasized body movement and feeling, or a neutral condition that only gave verbal instruction and time cues. Participants filled out two surveys; one before the exercise task to assess dispositional levels of self-objectification and surveys post-exercise task to assess states of self-objectification and exercise experiences. It was expected that participants in the appearance-focused condition would have higher experiences of self-objectification and negative exercise experiences compared to participants in other conditions. Despite this, results showed that only participants in the neutral condition reported statistically significantly greater exercise enjoyment compared to those in the function condition. It is possible that exercise is most enjoyable when there is no emphasis on the physical self. Future research should examine the underlying relationships between self-objectification and exercise experience to promote sustained participation in young women.
Press, MacLean, "Appearance- versus Function-Based Verbal Cues during Exercise in Young Non-Exercising Women" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8704.
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